How Many Accidents Can a CDL Driver Have?

Jan 10

Obtaining a commercial driver’s license (CDL) requires a driver to have an advanced level of skills, knowledge, and expertise. Since the consequences of a mistake are higher, commercial drivers are held to a higher standard than non-commercial drivers. But what qualifies a driver to get a commercial driver’s license and how you can receive fair compensation if you have a truck accident claim involving a commercial driver?

 

Overview of a Commercial Driver’s License 

Since April 1, 1992, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has required that drivers of commercial motor vehicles obtain a CDL. The FMCSA has developed standards for state testing, mandating that drivers pass both knowledge and skills tests.

Drivers are required to obtain a CDL if they operate their vehicle within the state (intrastate), across state lines (interstate), or in foreign commerce. 

Restrictions may be attached to a driver’s license if the exam is taken in a commercial motor vehicle that lacks critical equipment which would otherwise be present in the vehicle they will be operating. 

 

Obtaining an Indiana Commercial Driver’s License 

Each state’s guidelines for obtaining a CDL are normally based on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) guidelines. To obtain a CDL in Indiana, a commercial driver must first obtain a commercial learner’s permit. 

Once the driver receives a learner’s permit, he or she is required to wait fourteen (14) days before being eligible to take the CDL exam. For the CDL examination, the driver must pass written tests and a CDL skills exam.

The CDL skills exam must be taken in a vehicle that is similar to the commercial vehicle that the driver will be operating. The CDL skills exam must be taken at an Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) approved testing site. 

The road exam will consist of the following:

  • Pre-trip inspection exam
  • Basic control skills exam
  • Road trip exam

When a driver is first applying for a CDL, he or she will have to undergo a medical examination. This examination must be performed by a medical examiner certified by the FMCSA National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners. The physical is required by the FMCSA in order to ensure that the driver is healthy enough to operate a commercial vehicle.

 

Who is Required to Have a Commercial Driver’s License?

Most drivers will obtain a CDL through their home state. In Indiana, if a driver operates either of the following types of vehicles, he or she must have a CDL:

  • Commercial motor vehicles or combinations of vehicles with gross vehicle weight ratings in excess of 26,000 pounds
  • Vehicles designed to transport 16 or more people, including the driver, and vehicles used to transport hazardous materials.

 

Causes of Truck Accidents

There are a number of reasons that truck accidents happen. Although truck drivers are held to higher standards, they can still make mistakes on the road.

Some common causes of truck accidents are:

  • Fatigue
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Distracted driving
  • Speeding
  • Following other vehicles too closely

 

Can a CDL Driver Lose Their License for Causing an Accident?

Anytime a commercial vehicle driver is in an accident, an investigation will take place. The police will respond to the accident scene and issue a report. The insurance company will also conduct its own investigation to determine which driver caused the accident.

Even if a commercial truck driver has a clean driving record, if they are found responsible for causing an accident, the driver may face CDL revocation.

Many factors will have to be considered in determining if a truck driver will lose his or her license, some of which include:

  • The severity of injuries, vehicle damage, and other property damage
  • If the truck driver was responsible for the accident
  • If the truck driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs

 

According to Indiana law, an commercial driver who has a blood alcohol level of more than 0.04% but less than 0.08% has committed a class C infraction. For a first conviction, a commercial driver’s license will be suspended for one year, and the driver will face criminal penalties. 

Criminal sanctions may include 180 days in jail, with a maximum fine of $500. A second conviction will result in a driver’s license being suspended for life. 

Whether or not a truck driver is responsible for an accident, the transgression will remain on his or her driving record for up to seven years. When an accident is caused by a truck driver’s negligence, the driver will have trouble securing future employment.

 

Commercial Vehicle Hazards

A commercial motor vehicle is any type of vehicle that is used to transport cargo or people for the benefit of a business. 

Commercial motor vehicles may include tractor-trailers, box trucks, pick-up trucks, buses, vans, taxicabs, and caravans.

There are three main reasons that commercial vehicles pose significant hazards to other motorists: size, driver behavior, and poorly secured cargo.

 

Size

A tractor-trailer can weigh up to 80,000 pounds and can be up to 72 feet long. The size and weight of a “big rig” make it difficult for the driver to brake, turn, and maneuver the vehicle efficiently. 

It is estimated that a tractor-trailer driver traveling at 65 miles per hour will take the length of two football fields to come to a complete stop. 

These conditions increase the likelihood of large commercial vehicles getting into accidents. With the average passenger car weighing approximately 4,100 pounds, a crash with a large commercial vehicle often results in devastating injuries.

 

Driver Behavior

Commercial vehicle drivers are often under stressful deadlines to deliver goods. 

This time pressure may cause commercial vehicle operators to drive erratically. Drivers may run red lights and speed, making unsafe efforts to stay on schedule.

 

Poorly Secured Cargo

If you have ever been driving on a highway and saw loose cargo spilling out of a pick-up truck or tractor-trailer, you have probably swerved in order to avoid it.

The FMCSA has specific rules for restraining cargo. Articles of cargo that are likely to roll must be restrained in order to prevent rolling. Articles of cargo placed beside each other and secured by transverse tie-downs must be:

  1. Placed in direct contact with each other, or
  2. Prevented from shifting towards each other while in transit.

Loose cargo proves a major hazard for other road users. At high speeds, loose cargo can become projectiles, crashing through windshields, leading to innocent road users becoming injured.

 

FMCSA Regulations to Reduce Accidents

The FMCSA is making efforts to reduce commercial motor vehicle accidents. Commercial truck drivers must follow the hours-of-operation (HOS) regulations.

The HOS regulations restrict how many hours a driver can be on the road. Depending on whether a driver is carrying cargo or passengers, regulations will be slightly different.

Commercial truck drivers are required to track their driving time by keeping a logbook. With limited exceptions, most commercial drivers are required to use an electronic logging device (ELD). Electronic logging makes it easier for drivers to log their hours both efficiently and accurately. 

Property-carrying drivers, or drivers carrying cargo, are prohibited from driving more than 11 hours after being off-duty for ten consecutive hours. In the event of bad weather or adverse road conditions, drivers are allowed to extend their driving time by up to two hours.

Although the FMCSA appears to take appropriate precautions to reduce accidents, commercial truck drivers are always operating on a tight schedule. In order to abide by HOS regulations, drivers will often speed, even in poor conditions, in order to make deliveries on time.

 

What Can Increase the Cost of a Claim?

Victims of truck and tractor-trailer accidents often sustain permanent injuries. Your claim may be worth more if you have suffered a permanent or residual injury. 

Permanent injuries may include:

 

  • Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)
  • Dismemberment
  • Amputations
  • Disfigurement 
  • Spinal cord injuries

 

In any personal injury claim, if you can show that your injuries have a permanent effect on your life, then you may be entitled to a higher level of compensation to cover your losses. A claim involving long-term disabilities will have more value than a case involving minor injuries.

Take, for example, a person who suffers a herniated disc from being rear-ended by a tractor-trailer. Since these discs serve to cushion the spine, a herniated or slipped disc can cause nearby spinal nerves to become irritated. 

This condition can greatly affect a person’s life and may result in an individual being unable to work or live a normal life. The victim will likely have many doctor appointments and will have to undergo medical treatments in order to keep the pain under control.

These factors must be taken into consideration when determining the value of your claim. A truck and tractor-trailer attorney will be able to evaluate your case and request appropriate compensation to meet your needs.

 

Documenting Residual Injuries 

If you have been the victim of a truck accident and have suffered residual injuries, it is vital that you have documentation supporting your claim. 

You are more likely to receive the compensation you deserve if your doctor states that your injuries may be permanent in your medical records. Any evidence supporting your physician’s opinion (i.e., CT scans, MRIs, and X-rays) will help to further your claim.

You should never give an insurance company access to all of your medical records. Signing any type of release that gives an insurance company access to your medical records can end up hurting your claim. An insurer may attempt to reason that your back pain is due to you falling on ice three years ago and not the tractor-trailer driver crashing into your vehicle last week.

 

Compensatory Damages

The plaintiff in a personal injury case will ask for compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are intended to make the victim “whole” again. This can include economic and non-economic damages.

Economic damages, also known as special damages, have a price tag attached. Economic damages include expenses that are a result of your accident, such as:

 

  • Lost wages
  • Lost earning potential
  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Rehabilitative equipment
  • Vehicle damage and/or repairs

 

In contrast, a plaintiff may request non-economic damages, also referred to as general damages, for any losses that are not easily quantifiable but affect the victim’s quality of life.

Non-economic damages may include:

 

  • Pain and suffering
  • Negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED)
  • Loss of companionship
  • Loss of consortium
  • Disfigurement

 

Am I Entitled to Punitive Damages?

You may be able to receive punitive damages if the defendants acted with willful negligence or intentionally harmed you. 

Unlike compensatory damages that serve to compensate you for your injuries and other losses, punitive damages are meant to punish the wrongdoer. Additionally, they serve to deter others from similar behavior.

Punitive damages may be awarded in addition to compensatory or actual damages. In civil suits, the plaintiff must show that it is “more likely than not” that the truck driver is at fault (known as the preponderance of the evidence standard) to collect compensatory damages. 

However, the standard is higher for the victim to recover punitive damages. The plaintiff bears the burden of proving through “clear and convincing evidence” that the defendant’s conduct warrants punitive or exemplary damages.

Indiana Code § 34-51-3-4 limits a punitive damages award to not more than the greater of:

(1) three (3) times the amount of compensatory damages awarded in the action; or

(2) fifty thousand dollars ($50,000).

 

How Can a Truck and Tractor Trailer Accident Lawyer Help Me?

If you have been in an accident and sustained severe or permanent injuries, you will have to fight to receive the compensation that you deserve. Insurance companies have the goal of paying as little as possible on your claim. 

Commercial truck insurance will have policy limits in place. If your claim exceeds these limits, then you may have to personally sue the truck driver or the trucking company to receive the damages that are rightfully yours. 

 

That is where our firm can help. We have years of experience working with truck accident claims. We will work tirelessly to help you receive fair compensation.

 

Speak with Our Indiana Truck Accident Lawyers

When drivers of commercial motor vehicles get into accidents, they have insurance companies fighting for them. You need the aggressive representation of the truck and tractor-trailer accident lawyers at Blackburn Romey to defend your rights. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation. 

 

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